This review contains at least one spoiler.
I received this novella in a BookLikes giveaway run by the author. It's book 3.5 in Edwards' Araneae Nation series, which takes place in a world divided into lands of perpetual winter and lands of perpetual summer. In those lands live various clans, each with specific characteristics that define them.
A Kiss of Venom stars Nicolette. She and Maisy, her musically-gifted young daughter, have traveled to the Araneidae clan, ostensibly so that Maisy can perform at Rhys and Lourdes' first anniversary party. In reality, Nicolette has been hired to kill Pascale, Lourdes' sister (this is directly related to events in A Hint of Frost).
Having been cast out of the Araneidae clan ten years ago because she slept with Armand, Lourdes' brother and the Araneidae heir, Nicolette has little love for the clan. She has since changed her name and appearance. She has also altered Maisy's appearance, so that no one will connect her and Armand's lavender eyes – yes, this is a Secret Baby book.
It took me a while to wrap my brain around the situation and characters. I was confused, because I didn't recall Armand being a jerk in A Hint of Frost, and yet, if Nicolette's side of the story was true, that's what he was. To be honest, I could barely recall anything about him – Henri, his herbalist brother, stood out more. Armand was simply the brother who could increase male thread production the way Lourdes could increase female thread production.
I spent much of the novella wondering what, exactly, had happened ten years ago. I think I eventually got everything sorted out in my head, but it was pretty confusing for a while. On the one hand, Nicolette blamed Armand and his family for her having been cast out of both the Araneidae clan and the Salticidae clan. On the other hand, Armand seemed to think that the girl he'd loved 10 years ago was dead. Had Nicolette spent years blaming him for a situation he hadn't even had full knowledge of?
I did decide, by the end, that Nicolette's anger was justified. I wasn't entirely happy with how Armand and his family dealt with one of the revelations about Maisy – I felt it was a step backward as far as earning back Nicolette's trust went. I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if Maisy hadn't conveniently turned out to qualify as Armand's heir. It annoyed me that Armand seemed to assume that he, Nicolette, and Maisy could be a happy family, as though the events of ten years ago had never happened. Thankfully, Nicolette didn't make things quite that easy for him. The story's ending was more HFN (happy for now) than HEA (happily ever after), which fit the situation better.
Although I felt this story was only so-so, I did at least like it more than A Hint of Frost. Nicolette was less naive than Lourdes, and the world-specific details were a little more focused and lightly touched upon, so I didn't spend so much time wondering how it all fit together. Unfortunately, I didn't find Armand to be any more interesting after I finished the story - maybe I'd have connected with him more if some of the story had been told from his perspective?
There is either a formatting error or continuity error near the end. In one paragraph, Nicolette has just stood and is about to go meet Giles to talk about getting a job. In the next, she's in a tub, taking a bubble bath. There is no extra space between the paragraphs to indicate a scene change. It was a little confusing. Otherwise, though, I didn't notice any errors, and I was thrilled that the default font size was larger than Samhain's usual choice.
I had some trouble with this read-alikes list. Although I enjoy books starring assassins, I don't have much familiarity with secret baby books.
- Daughter of the Blood (book) by Anne Bishop - This is a good place to start this series, but I'm adding it to this list because of a character who becomes more prominent later on, Surreal. Surreal is both an assassin and a prostitute, although she eventually decides to just work as an assassin. Those who'd like to see another tough female assassin with family issues might want to check this dark fantasy series out. There are at least a couple later books/stories in which she is the main character.
- Poison Study (book) by Maria V. Snyder - I'm really reaching here. In terms of focus, this book isn't at all like Edwards' novella. I do think certain elements fit, however. Yelena, the main character, escapes execution by agreeing to be a food taster for the Commander, the ruler of Ixia. As extra insurance, she is deliberately fed a poison - if she doesn't receive the antidote on a daily basis, she will die. This is mostly a fantasy, but there's a tiny bit of romance involving the Commander's foremost spy/assassin.
- Lethal Rider (book) by Larissa Ione - This is actually the third book in a series that, from the sounds of things, should probably be read in order. Start with Eternal Rider. I added this particular book to the list because it sounds like it has some of the same elements as Edwards' novel: romance (in this case, paranormal romance), a secret baby, and bad behavior that should require some serious groveling (in this case, the bad behavior sounds like it's really bad, and it's the heroine that should be groveling).